There was plenty of mumbling and grumbling from the 45,000+ fans filing into Citizen’s Bank Park on a cold and rainy April 1st to watch the Phillies open the 2011 season against the Houston Astros. And who could blame them? The calendar says ‘Spring’ but the thermometer struggled to rise above ’45’ late into the afternoon. But once Opening Day starter Roy Halladay led the home team onto the field to start the top of the 1st, the stadium exploded as if to release four months of pent-up anticipation for this Phillies team to begin their much-hyped regular season.
Halladay began the game in typical Doc fashion, striking out five of the first eight batters he faced. The first hit he allowed was to opposing starter Brett Myers in the top of the 3rd inning. Halladay, however, didn’t have as efficient of a game he would like, as he was pulled after six innings, allowing one earned on five hits, while striking out six total on the day.
With all of the well-deserved hoopla surrounding the Phillies’ starting rotation, the shaky bullpen, a question mark entering the season, reared its ugly head in the top of the seventh. J.C. Romero, the lefty specialist in the pen, allowed a leadoff single to Astros’ first baseman Brett Wallace. After David Herndon came in to relieve Romero, things only got worse. The Astros drove in three runs off two hits against Herndon, including a two-run triple by center fielder and former Phillie, Michael Bourn.
Myers took a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh, until Placido Polanco and Jimmy Rollins, currently occupying the third spot in the lineup with Chase Utley on the disabled list, reached base on a walk and a single, respectively. After a passed ball allowed the two to move up to second and third base, Ryan Howard drove in the first run of the season on a sacrifice fly to centerfield. Raul Ibanez then brought Rollins home with an RBI ground out. Myers allowed two runs, one earned, on just three hits. He also walked three batters while striking out none.
After Ryan Madson and Danys Baez (1-0) pitched scoreless 8th and 9th innings, the Phillies offense decided to shake off the cobwebs of the offseason and seemed to remember that the games actually count now. Jimmy Rollins led off the bottom of the ninth with a single to right against closer Brandon Lyon. After a Howard single and an Ibanez infield pop out, Rollins provided a much-needed spark by stealing third base. Right fielder Ben Francisco, starting in place the now Washington National Jayson Werth, drove Jimmy home with a single to left. Carlos Ruiz then loaded the bases with a single to left. After second baseman Wilson Valdez, starting for the aforementioned Utley, tied the game with yet another single to left, the stage was set for pinch hitter John Mayberry, Jr. to play the opening day hero. Mayberry, one of the last players to make the 2011 roster, did not disappoint, driving a 2-2 pitch over the head of Bourn to score Francisco for the game winning run.
While the win was certainly a great way to kick off what looks like quite the interesting season, one can only hope that it isn’t foreshadowing what is to come for the Phightins’ this year. That is, sleepwalking through eight innings and finally waking up in the ninth to try to win the game. Fans certainly can hark back to the 2010 season and the team’s much publicized offensive struggles during painfully long stretches. Also, after just one game, there are obvious issues with the bullpen, with closer Brad Lidge on the disabled list until at least the third week of the season, and possibly until mid-May. Is there a reliable middle innings reliever? What role will former starter and High Hopes favorite Kyle Kendrick fill? Will the team have to find another left-handed reliever after Romero doesn’t exactly scream dependable against left-handed hitters?
The questions surrounding the team will only be answered once the 2011 season has come and gone. With that being said, being 1-0 with 161 games to play has never felt so good.